Ernst & Young dumps Wembley ahead of bribery trial in US

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The Independent Online

Ernst & Young has quit as auditor to Wembley only weeks before two former directors of the group go on trial in the US on bribery charges.

Wembley, which is now a greyhound and gaming company and no longer the owner of the north London stadium of the same name, announced it had appointed a successor to Nigel Potter, its former chief executive. Mr Potter stepped down in September last year after being charged with running a conspiracy to win slot machine licences in Wembley's US casino by offering bribes of $4.5m (£2.3m) to a law firm.

He will stand trial on 25 January with Daniel Bucci, another former director, who ran Wembley's Lincoln Park development in Rhode Island. Wembley and the two former directors involved deny all charges, saying they are "without foundation and will be vigorously defended at the trial".

Mark Elliott, Wembley's finance director, will become group chief executive on 1 January. Claes Hultman, who became executive chairman after Mr Potter stood down, will relinquish his executive powers. Eric Tracey, an audit partner at Deloitte & Touche, has been appointed finance director.

While the charges against Wembley have been public for more than a year, it is understood that the US arm of E&Y, which audited Wembley's books at the time of the alleged criminal activity, has grown increasingly nervous of being associated with the company as the trial approaches. It is thought that E&Y became "jittery" at the prospect of continuing to audit Wembley's accounts while the company defended the charges. KPMG has replaced E&Y.

Wembley said there were "no circumstances connected with [E&Y] ceasing to hold office" that should cause alarm to shareholders.

Mr Elliott said the board still intended to sell Wembley, after takeover talks failed this year. He said: "At an operational level, the business is in great shape. The trial is the only shadow hanging over us, and even then the two bidders abandoned their plans for reasons unconnected to the litigation. We came to the strategy some time ago that it would be best to sell out at some point, and have no reason to go back on that."